Elgar / Enigma Variations in Living Stereo – Sometimes Tubey Magic Comes at a Price

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This famous Shaded Dog, containing two superb performances by Monteux and the LSO, has many of the Golden Age strengths and weaknesses we know well here at Better Records, having played literally hundreds upon hundreds of these vintage pressings over the last twenty years or so. 

The wonderful sounding tube compressors that were used back in the day result in quieter passages that are positively swimming in ambience and low-level orchestral detail. Tube compression is often a large part of what we mean when we use the term Tubey Magic.

If you want to know what Zero Tubey Magic sounds like, play some Telarcs or Reference Recordings from the ’70s and ’80s. Or a modern digital recording on CD.

But all that sweet and rich Tubey Magic comes at a price when it’s time for the orchestra to get loud. It either can’t, or the louder passages simply distort from compressor overload. Fortunately on this copy the orchestra does not distort, it simply never gets as loud as it would in a real concert hall, clearly the lesser and more preferable of the two evils.

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer for these sessions in glorious Kingsway Hall. It’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the London Symphony recorded in was one of the best venues of its day. Scores of amazing sounding recordings were made there by Decca using an All Tube Recording Chain being fed by the Decca “Tree” miking setup.

There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond practically any other recordings we know of, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.


The Ramsey Lewis Trio – Down To Earth

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Yet Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound

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  • Down To Earth finally makes it to the site with STUNNING Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound from start to finish
  • A truly superb recording with huge, spacious, dynamic, lively sound – Tubey Magical richness is a big plus too
  • As soon as the needle hit the groove on a copy we had picked up locally we knew the sound was top notch – the excellent music was a plus as well (!)
  • 4 stars: “Their concise interpretations (only two songs are longer than 3:15) feature swinging solos by Lewis and respect for the melodies. The music is quite accessible while still being jazz oriented. Worth picking up.”

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Pink Floyd – The Wall

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Letters and Commentaries for The Wall

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  • With outstanding Double Plus (A++) grades on all FOUR sides, this copy of The Wall is guaranteed to blow the doors off any other pressing you’ve heard
  • Forget whatever dead-as-a-doornail Heavy Vinyl record they’re making these days – if you want to hear the Tubey Magic, size and energy of Floyd’s magnum opus from 1979, this is the way to go
  • The Wall demands big, bold, explosively dynamic ANALOG sound, and here is a copy that delivers on that promise
  • Grungy electric guitars, breathy vocals, HUGE punchy drums, earth-shaking bass and room-filling ambience are all here like you’ve never heard before
  • One of the best sounding rock recordings of all time – here is a copy that will make our case

We spend a ridiculous amount of time cleaning, playing, and comparing copies of this classic double album for our shootouts and let me tell you, there are a lot of weak copies out there.

What do these kinds of top grades give you for The Wall? Top-notch clarity and transparency, mind-blowing immediacy, weight to the bottom, extension up top, HUGE open soundfields, real texture to all the instruments, TONS of energy with serious dynamics, BIG punchy drums and loads of natural ambience.

Pink Floyd tends to be an amazingly well-recorded band, and this album is certainly no exception. If you’ve taken home one of our Hot Stampers for Dark Side of the Moon, Meddle, or Wish You Were Here, then you certainly know what we’re talking about. (more…)

A Killer Kind of Blue — We Guarantee You’ve Never Heard It Sound Like This

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Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

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A knockout copy of one of the most famous albums of all-time, the great Kind Of Blue! This one is absolutely SUPERB, earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade for both sides. You will not believe the presence, energy and transparency on this pressing. The brass sounds AMAZING. The bottom end is just right. And the piano is Right On The Money. Folks, I don’t think you could ask anything more from this music than what this White Hot Stamper gives you.

In my opinion, many of the best sounding copies are standard domestic Red Label pressings from the ’70s. I’m fully aware of how outrageous a statement that may sound. But I’ve long known of amazing sounding Kind Of Blue reissues.

Having played scores of different pressings of this record over the years, I think I know this recording about as well as anyone. The tube mastered original Six Eye Stereo copies have wonderful, lush, sweet sound. I’ve heard many of them. The 360s from the ’60s often split the difference — less tubey magical, but cleaner and more correct. The Red Labels are all over the map, ranging from smeary and dull to out of this world. And this copy, my friends, is one of the good ones.

Unimpeachable Audiophile Credentials

We know we’re asking a lot of money for a record that any jazz record dealer would be embarrassed to charge more than $25 for. (Actually, these are starting to sell for $40+ pretty regularly on eBay and elsewhere. Apparently the word got out that these can sound incredible. Blame us!) But jazz record dealers don’t know anything about sound. They know about collectibility. They know about price guides. They know their market — jazz collectors — and I know mine: audiophiles. This record has unimpeachable audiophile credentials. It has the sound in the grooves like you have never heard before. And who else but your friends at Better Records are going to be able to tell you that?

Quick Listening Test for Side One

This is an easy one. Just listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too. (Meaning smear is important, but not all-important.)

What We Think We Know about Peter Gabriel’s Brilliant So Album from 1986

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Hot Stamper Pressings of So Available Now

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Here is a copy of So with the Big and Bold Peter Gabriel sound we love. If you want your Art Rock to actually rock (as well as be arty), this is the copy for you.

It’s not a perfect recording by any means, but when it sounds this good you can just forget its shortcomings and marvel at how consistently good the material and the production are.

No Mean Feat

It’s exceptionally hard to find good sounding copies of this album, as you can read about below. With a digital recording such as this, the margin for mastering error is very slim. Most copies just aren’t worth the vinyl they’re pressed on. They can sound harsh, gritty, grainy, edgy, and thin.

We did a shootout years ago that taught us a few things. The most surprising finding? The Brit copy I had in my own collection sucked — how about that! As a rule, I like the Brit pressings best for PG, but that rule got broken after playing all these domestic copies, some of which really sound good, clearly better than the average Brit.

Recording Issues

This is a digital recording, and most of the time it is BRIGHT, SPITTY and GRAINY like a typical digital recording, which plays right into our prejudices. After hearing a bad copy, what audiophile wouldn’t conclude that all copies will have these bad qualities? After all, it’s digital. It can’t be fixed simply by putting it on vinyl.

Ah, but that’s where logic breaks down. Proper mastering can ameliorate many if not most of a recording’s shortcomings. When we say Hot Stampers, we are talking about high-quality mastering doing exactly that.

Mass Produced Plastic Problems

But of course the mastering is only one part of the puzzle. I have multiple copies with the same stampers. Some of them are terrible, some of them are wonderful — you just can’t rely on the numbers to guide you with a piece of mass-produced plastic like this. You have no choice but to play the record to know what it sounds like. (And that’s a good thing. Keeps you honest. There’s no “cheating” when you have nothing to go by but the sound.)

This album sold in the millions. They stamped it out until the metalwork was as smooth as a baby’s bottom. Those badly pressed copies are not going to have any high-frequency extension, which leaves them with all the harsh upper mids sticking out of the mix to peel the paint in your living room and make your ears bleed. (more…)

Paul McCartney’s Must Own Masterpiece

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The best tracks here have the quality of LIVE MUSIC in a way that not one out of a hundred rock records do. It sounds like it’s recorded live in the studio, but of course that’s impossible, because Paul plays practically all the instruments himself! It just goes to show how good a multi-track studio recording can sound when done well.

In our experience, the real McCartney Magic is only found on the best domestic Apple pressings. We’ve never heard an import that did much for us, and the later CBS issues are hardly worth the vinyl they’re pressed on.

This album, like Unplugged and Band on the Run (and not a whole lot else) is SUPERB from start to finish. At the end of side two you want MORE. I wish I could say that about the rest of his discography.

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Cat Stevens Testimonial – I Wouldn’t Believe It If I Weren’t Hearing It!

Hot Stamper Pressings of Mone Bone Available Now

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Our good customer Joel not only loved our slightly noisy but amazing sounding Mona Bone Hot Stamper, he found it to be pretty darn quiet to boot! He says it’s the Best $180 he’s ever spent on an LP. Seems like a lot of money for one record, but when the music and sound are this good who wants to argue with a happy man?

Hi Tom

I just spun the bargain tics and pops A+++ Mona Bone Jakon. I listened to this record hundreds of times growing up, but never like this! Silky smooth voices and guitars, so lifelike! Nice bass extension also… I have to laugh, because I think that the condition of this record is excellent!

Now I know how the other half lives! Listening to this hot stamper reminds me of my image of the rich man, eating only the center of the watermelon. These hot stampers are amazing, I wouldn’t believe it if I weren’t hearing it! Best $180 I’ve ever spent on an LP…

Joel

Joel, like it says in our commentary, We Love Cat too! Thanks so much for your letter. Enjoy one of the Greatest Folk Rock Records of All Time, finally sounding the way it should.

Best,
TP

We Was Wrong

When we said this album was not the sonic equal of Teaser and the Firecat or Tea for the Tillerman, boy, We Was Wrong and then some. Read all about it in this White Hot Stamper copy review below.

It’s been about a year since we last found Hot Stampers of this album, and having made a number of improvements to the stereo over that time, I’m here to report that this album got a WHOLE LOT BETTER, better than I ever imagined it could get. Mona Bone Jakon now ranks as a DEMO DISC of the highest order, every bit the equal of Teaser and Tea. To think that all three of these records came out in one fifteen month period is astonishing. The only other artists to have produced music of this caliber in so short a time would have to be The Beatles, and it took four of them to do it.

Which is not what we used to think, as evidenced by this paragraph from a previous Hot Stamper listing.

This album is one of Cat’s top four titles both musically and sonically. Tea and Teaser are obviously in a league of their own, but this album and Catch Bull At Four are close behind. The music is WONDERFUL — the best tracks (including I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light) rank right up there with anything from his catalog. Sonically it’s not an epic recording on the scale of Tea or Teaser, but with Paul Samwell-Smith at the helm, you can be sure it’s an excellent sounding album — on the right pressing.

That last line is dead wrong. It IS an epic recording on the scale of Tea and Teaser. This copy proves it! Now that we know just how good this record can sound, I hope you will allow me to borrow some commentary from another classic Cat Stevens album listing, to wit:

Right off the bat I want to say this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made three records that belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folk-pop, Mona Bone Jakon, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

When you hear I Wish I Wish and I Think I See The Light on a Hot Stamper copy you will be convinced, as I am, that this is one of the greatest popular recordings in the history of the world. I don’t know of ANY other album that has more LIFE and MUSICAL ENERGY than this one.

Quiet Vinyl

We used to have the worst luck trying to find quiet copies of this album. We naturally blamed the vinyl for the noise we heard, but in this latest shootout so many copies were so quiet that we now know better. It’s the CLEANING that makes the difference. This is of course one of the most important Revolutions in Audio of the last decade, along with too many others to mention here. Check out the link above to take advantage of the newest discoveries that can make your stereo sound better and your records quieter.


Further Reading

Record Cleaning Advice

Record Playback Advice

Turntable Setup Advice

Tchaikovsky / Swan Lake / Grossman – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840 – 1893)

More Classical ‘Sleeper” Recordings We’ve Discovered with Demo Disc Sound

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This budget Whitehall pressing is one of the most incredible SLEEPERS in the entire classical catalog, with SUPERB sound as well as performances of the highest quality from the Vienna Festival Orchestra. The sound is big and bold, spacious, open and sweet in the best golden age tradition. Superior pressings of this recording would give all but the best Shaded Dogs, Londons and Mercs a serious run for their money, beating most of them handily. Yes, it’s that good. The string tone and rosiny texture on side two are especially noteworthy.

There’s a freedom from coloration on either side that is positively refreshing after playing most vintage classical recordings. (more…)

Townes Van Zandt – Flyin’ Shoes

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  • Flyin’ Shoes makes its Hot Stamper debut here with outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last on this original Tomato pressing
  • Exceptionally present, real and resolving, this pressing is guaranteed to murder any remastering undertaken by anyone, past, present and future
  • The LIFE of the man’s music is captured on this pressing, and you can be pretty sure that that is simply not going to be the case with whatever they’re peddling to record buyers these days
  • 4 stars: “The melodies here are strong, the lyrics full of Van Zandt’s razor sharp insight, and the production is sparse and to the point, bringing to mind the inconspicuous polish of High, Low and in Between. The feel here is a balance between folk and country, with Van Zandt’s voice and guitar up front, letting the songs speak for themselves.”

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Fred Plaut Is One of Our Favorite Engineers

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Fred Plaut is one of our favorite recording and mixing engineers. Click on the link to find our in-stock Fred Plaut engineered or produced albums, along with plenty of our famous commentaries. 

Frederick “Fred” Plaut was a recording engineer and amateur photographer. He was employed by Columbia Records during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, eventually becoming the label’s chief engineer.

Plaut engineered sessions for what would result in many of Columbia’s most famous albums, including the original cast recordings of South Pacific, My Fair Lady, and West Side Story, jazz LPs Kind of Blue and Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis, Time Out by Dave Brubeck, Mingus Ah Um and Mingus Dynasty by Charles Mingus.

Wikipedia

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Reviews of Recordings Made at Columbia’s 30th Street Studio